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Ben Franklin’s Language-Learning Secret

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described a technique he frequently used to improve his writing and language skills: Whenever Franklin came across a piece of writing that he felt was extremely well-crafted, he would read the passage repeatedly until he could write down word-for-word—from memory—what he read on a separate piece of paper. He then would compare what he wrote to the original passage he read, would make whatever corrections he needed to, and would repeat the whole exercise several days later. If there’s some aspect of your language skills you’d like to improve (writing, speaking, or listening, etc.), give Benjamin Franklin’s exercise a try: Improve your listening skills by writing down the words you hear in a foreign language movie or song. Watch your favorite foreign-language TV show, and try to imitate your favorite character’s accent or vocabulary. Or, if you want to work on you foreign-language writing and expression skills, buy a translated... read more

How to Build Your Language Skills Painlessly by Keeping a Diary

One thing I found helpful when I was initially getting the hang of Russian was to keep a language diary for a few weeks. My diary started when, in an effort not to get rusty at Russian during the summer between semesters, I started reading some Russian poetry and parts of short stories in the original. The diary wasn’t anything fancy. I simply wanted some more Russian-language practice and to practice expressing my thoughts in writing (no matter how simple the thoughts were). I did this by typing my entries in Russian into a Word document. I usually wrote about 2 things: 1) what I remembered about the poem/story’s plot 2) what I thought about the poem/story I’d also bold and put into red coloring new phrases and vocabulary that I’d learned, found useful, and wanted to remember. Your diary can serve whatever function you’d like. You can write about your day, or some little event that happened one day. Or you can keep track of useful phrases or words you learned... read more

The Value of Flashcards

I remember that there was once a time when I underestimated the power of flashcards as a learning tool, and now I they’re all I use to memorize new language vocabulary and sometimes grammar concepts. Though they can be tedious and boring to write out for a large vocabulary list, flashcards have been worth the extra effort that I’ve put into making them. Here are some of the pros (listed in no particular order) that I’ve found in using flashcards: - You can easily make them—and on your own time. I love printed lists, but I noticed that they take me more time and effort to make than flashcards. I find that I get too particular and too hung up over small details—the words need to be a certain font, I like for the English side to be a certain color, etc. Also by the time I’m even done making up a list to print, I usually have to wait for a computer at the library to print my vocab list, and then end up waiting behind someone who has 7 print jobs. Flashcards, one the... read more

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